Wilfried Houjebek’s Cryptoforestry blog looks for “forests in cities” and for “cities in forests” – a purpose I want to adopt as I travel around different places working with schools in New Zealand.
He describes cryptoforests as a “cultural and not a biological way to classify nature”.
And claims that “the recognition of a cryptoforest is a visionary act, not a mechanical operation: there is no machine vision here.”
1) Feral forests (Planted tree zones, for instance along motorways, that have been allowed to become wild to the point that their wildness is outgrowing their manmadeness.)
2) In limbo forests (Tree-covered plots that feel like forests but technically probably aren't; states of vegetation for which lay-language has no name.)
3) Incognito Forests (Forests that have gone cryptic and are almost invisible, forests in camouflage, forests with a talent for being ignored.)
4) Precognitive forests (Lands that are on the brink of becoming forested, a future forest fata morgana.)
5) Unappreciated forests (Forests regarded as zones of waste and weed, forests shaming planners, developers, and the neighbourhood. NIMBY forestry.)
It is a lovely way of looking at forests – one that allows us to more widely imagine what the connection between human systems and natural ecosystems might be.
And it makes me want to look at "learning" and “learning communities/networks” in a similarly "visionary" way.
1) Feral learning communities (Learning communities, for instance associated with a prior event or a conference, that have been allowed to become wild to the point that their wildness is outgrowing their manmadeness.)
2) In limbo learning communities (Imposed or artificially populated teacher learning communities that feel like learning communities/networks but technically probably aren't; communities formed to meet a contract outcome; states of networking for which lay-language has no name.)
3) Incognito learning communities (Learning communities that have gone cryptic and are almost invisible, communities in camouflage, communities with a talent for being ignored.)
4) Precognitive learning communities (Communities that are on the brink of becoming learning communities, a future learning community fata morgana.)
5) Unappreciated learning communities (Learning communities regarded as zones of extremism, immaturity, irresponsibility, belligerence, anecdote, and romanticism; communities embarrassing those with institutional authority, policy writers, politicians and curriculum developers, and the neighbourhood. NIMBY learning communities.)
I can identify examples of each but it is likely I will not understand these learning communities fully until I find a way to join them.
Houjebek uses this lovely extract in his post A forager's critique of the 'Anthropocene' to argue that the Western mind misunderstands wilderness. It comes from Nelson's 'Make Prayers to the Raven'
This apparently untrodden forest and tundra country is thoroughly known by a people whose entire lives and cultural ancestry are inextricably associated with it. The lakes, hills, river bends, sloughs, and creeks are named and imbued with personal or cultural meanings. Indeed to the Koyukon these lands are no more a wilderness than are farmlands to a farmer or streets to a city dweller. At best we can call them a wildland.
The fact that Westerners identify this remote country as wilderness reflects their inability to conceive of occupying and utilizing an environment without fundamentally altering its natural state. But the Koyukon people and their ancestors have done precisely this over a protracted span of time. From this viewpoint, they have made a highly effective adjustment to living as members of an ecosystem, pursuing a form of adaptation that fosters the successful coexistence of humanity and nature within a single community.
In a society where teachers have always worked for institutions perhaps we are similarly blind to the many learning communities that exist amongst the un-schooled, the ex-schooled, the après-schooled and the post-schooled.
E. M. Forster captured this blindness from a different angle -
As long as learning is connected with earning, as long as certain jobs can only be reached through exams, so long must we take this examination system seriously. If another ladder to employment was contrived, much so-called education would disappear, and no one would be a penny the stupider.
Is it possible that we fail to recognise embedded learning communities? – those that occupy and utilise micro-environments and cracks in the surfaces – those that do not need kilometres of corridors, acres of IWB covered walls and square metres of tarmac covered parking spaces?
Houjebek goes on to cite Ellis and Ramankutty who argue that we have reached a period of geological time (Anthropocene) where it is “we who decide what nature is and what it will be”. They claim that nowadays we “live in human systems with natural ecosystems embedded within them” rather than the flip.
So “Culture” embeds “Nature”, and “Society” embeds “Ecosystems”.
Furthermore Ellis and Ramankutty argue that our decisions on “what nature is and what it will be” are predicated on economic reasoning.
“Where wilderness remains, it’s often only because exploitation is still unprofitable.”
They reduce the role of conservation management to “My Little Pony” like species domestication …
“Conservation management turns wild animals into a new form of pets.”
This seems similar to our interest as educators in taking over/capturing/embedding “unappreciated learning communities” if we think they might add authenticity to our “in limbo learning communities”. For instance, look at our renewed interest in the learning communities of MMORPG gamers and FAN fiction writers.
“what learning is and what it will be” is much like “what nature is and what nature will be” - both are embedded within society – both are things that society decides.
The recent events in Japan (and for that matter Christchurch) might cause a re-appraisal of these culture embedding nature arguments as hubris and vainglorious ambition.
Camille Paglia would most likely reject them … In Sexual Personae she sees nature prominent - in the driving seat – the embedder rather than the embedded.
"Human life began in flight and fear. Religion rose from rituals of propitiation, spells to lull the punishing elements. To this day, communities are few in regions scorched by heat or shackled by ice. Civilized man conceals from himself the extent of his subordination to nature. The grandeur of culture, the consolation of religion absorbs his attention and win his faith. But let nature shrug, and all is in ruin. Fire, flood, lightning, tornado, hurricane, volcano, earthquake - anywhere at anytime. Disaster falls upon the good and the bad. Civilised life requires a state of illusion. The idea of the ultimate benevolence of nature and God is the most potent of man's survival mechanisms. Without it, culture would revert to fear and despair." Sexual Personae 1991 Chapter 1 “Sex and Violence, or Nature and Art"
Perhaps learning needs to shrug a little.